West Brownsville Borough (pp. 635)

History of Washington County, Pennsylvania *

On the left bank of the Monongahela River, sixty-three miles above the city of Pittsburgh, and fifty-four miles by the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railroad (or, as now known, the Monongahela Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad),1 is situated the rather unpretentious borough of West Brownsville, the present terminus of the railroad mentioned. It contains the large and well-known boat-yard of Axton & Pringle, the extensive planing-mills of Thomas Aubrey & Sons, a handsome public school building, an Episcopal Church edifice, two hotels, several mercantile houses, about six hundred inhabitants, and is connected with the ancient town of Brownsville, Fayette Co., Pa., by a substantial covered bridge, six hundred and thirty feet in length, which, commenced in 1832, was completed in 1833, after an expenditure of about fifty thousand dollars.

[1Trains first began making regular trips between West Brownsville and Pittsburgh May 15, 1881.]

Although West Brownsville is but a modest, unassuming little borough, and occupies, comparatively speaking, but an insignificant portion of the surface of Washington County, its history is not uninteresting.

It seems that during the middle of the last century, and prior to the year 1769, a friendly Indian named William Peters, yet more generally known as "Indian Peter," lived on lands in the Youghiogheny Valley, adjoining a German named Philip Shute,1 with whom he could not agree. Thereupon Indian Peter wrote the proprietaries' agent, saying that he could not "get along with the d—d Dutchman," and wished to give up his land for another tract. His request was promptly complied with it appears, for on the 5th day of April, 1769, but two days after the land-office (for the sale of land in this newly-purchased territory) was opened, warrant No. 2844 was granted him for a tract containing three hundred and thirty-nine acres situated on the west side of the Monongahela River. This land was surveyed Oct. 7, 1769, by James Hendricks, deputy surveyor-general, who gave it the name of "Indian Hill."

[1Shute was a member of the Gist settlement, and was there when Capt. John Steele was at Redstone in 1768.]

It is very probable that Indian Peter took up his abode on Indian Hill soon after obtaining a title to the tract, for we find that on the 22nd day of February, 1775, the Virginia court, then in session at Fort Dunmore, licensed Michael Cresap "to keep a ferry over the Monongahela from his house at Redstone Old Fort to the land of Indian Peter." The latter died probably before the organization of this county, as the records show that the first civil suit entered in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas was brought on the 17th day of September, 1781, and that the defendant was a widow woman of the name of Mary Peters. This woman, doubtless, was the widow of Indian Peter.

Meanwhile, much travel centred at the Redstone Ferry. Here many emigrants to the Western and Southwestern regions, after long and wearied journeys over mountain roads and trails, could embark in Kentucky or Orleans boats and float to their destinations, while others who did not propose going so far crossed to the left bank of the river, and with wagons wended their way to points in the territory now known as Washington and Greene Counties and West Virginia. The needs of a passable road, therefore, from the ferry to the county-seat were urgent, and on the 1st day of January, 1782, viewers were appointed by the Court of Quarter Sessions to lay out a road from Bassett Town (now Washington) to Redstone Ferry.

While these improvements were being made or contemplated, the county of Washington was rapidly filling up with an energetic people, and Redstone Old Fort, or Brownsville, becoming an active business centre, it was not possible for the beautiful tract in the possession of Indian Peter's widow to long remain unimproved, a bar to the progressive spirit prevailing. Hence, during the spring of 1784, Neal Gillespie (a native of Ireland, and great-grandfather of Hon. James G. Blaine) purchased the Indian Hill property, as the following curious instrument (recorded in Book B, vol. i. p. 406, county recorder's office) indicates:

"March ye 3, 1784.

"Memerandom of a Bargain mead Between Marey Petters and William oldest son and Neal Gillespey, the agrement is thos, that we the above do bargain and seal to send Neal Geallespie the Tract of land which we now poses and all the tenements and boundries of said Land at forty five Shillings pr. Acker the tearm of Peaments the 15th of next October fower hundred Pounds to be Paid in money or moneys worth for this Peament two ton of Iron at teen pence Pr pound and one Negro at Preasment of two men, one hundred pound more to be pead at the same time of this Preasment or Else to Draw In trust for one Year, the Remainder of the Purches money to be Pead in two Peaments—First in the [year] 1786, the Next the year 1788, Each of these Peaments to be mead in October 15th the above Bound marey Petters and william Petters asserts to meak the said Neal Gillespee a proper Right for said land for which he have seat our hands and Seals.


"Acknowledged before THOMAS CROOKS Feb. 25, 1786."

Mr. Gillespie obtained full title and control of "Indian Hill" on the 27th of January, 1787, and we further learn from the description that it was situated "on the west side of the Monongahela River, opposite Fort Buyrd," and adjoining lands owned by Thomas Swearingen and Ebenezer Lane. It has been stated that Indian Peter's residence was on the hill overlooking the town site, and probably the elder Neal Gillespie, too, took up his abode there. However, during the passing of years the latter was laid beneath the sward of the valley, and the Indian Hill farm came into the possession of his son, also named Neal Gillespie.

Ephraim Blaine, grandfather of Ephraim L., and great-grandfather of the Hon. James G. Blaine, was a Revolutionary officer, and lived at Carlisle, Pa., where he succeeded David Hoge as sheriff of Cumberland County. "June 26, 1765, at seven o'clock in the afternoon," he married Rebekah Galbraith, by whom he had six children, all of whom died young except James. He traveled quite extensively in Europe and South America, and about 1800 came to the West.

Before emigrating he married Miss Lyon, a daughter of Samuel Lyon, of Cumberland County, and settled first at Davidson's Ferry, near Muddy Creek, in Greene County. In 1804 he removed to Brownsville, where he opened a store, and where, also, he was elected justice of the peace and occupied the position many years. He afterwards removed to Sewickley, Allegheny Co., Pa., where he owned a farm, which he sold to the Economites, and about 1817 moved to a small farm near Washington, Pa., where he died, leaving seven children, Ephraim L., Jane, Ellen, Ann, William, Robert, and Samuel.1

[1Jane, a daughter of James Blaine, married William Sample, the proprietor of the Washington Reporter. In 1819 he was elected prothonotary of the county, and later removed to the West. Ellen, also a daughter, became the wife of the Hon. John H. Ewing, of Washington, were they resided. She died many years ago. Ann married James Mason, and removed to Iowa. William Blaine died several years since. Robert now resides in Washington, D.C., and Samuel Blaine is a resident of Louisville, Ky.]

Ephraim Lyon Blaine was born on the 28th of February, 1796. He emigrated to this country with his father, graduated at Washington College, and married Maria, the daughter of Neal Gillespie, Jr. He became the owner of a large portion of the Indian Hill tract of Neal Gillespie, and established his residence on the bottom lands fronting the National road, the premises now occupied by John S. Pringle. Later he built at the lower end of the town the stone house still standing, known as the Blaine house, and where James G. Blaine was born in 1830. He graduated at Washington College, and after a time removed to the State of Maine. The career of James G. Blaine as member of Congress and United States senator from Maine, Secretary of State under President Garfield, and himself an aspirant to the nomination by the Republican party for President of the United States, is too well and universally known through the country to need a recital. In September, 1881, during the celebration of the centennial anniversary of the organization of Washington County, Pa., the following letter from Mr. Blaine was read. As it contains much that is and ever will be of historic interest to the people of West Brownsville, and, indeed, to Washington County people generally, this is thought to be a most appropriate place for its insertion:

"WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 5, 1881.


"DEAR SIR,--I had anticipated great pleasure in being present at the centennial celebration of the erection of Washington County, but the national sorrow which shadows every household detains me here. I shall perhaps never again have the opportunity of seeing so many of the friends of my youth and so many of my blood and kindred, and you may well conceive that my disappointment is great. The strong attachment which I feel for the county, the pride which I cherish in its traditions, and the high estimate which I have always placed on the character of its people increase with years and with reflection. The pioneers were strong-hearted, God-fearing, resolute men, wholly, or almost wholly, of Scotch or Scotch-Irish descent. They were men who, according to an inherited maxim, never turned their backs on a friend or on an enemy. For twenty years, dating from the middle period of the Revolution, the settlers were composed very largely of men who had themselves served in the Continental army, many of them as officers, and they imparted an intense patriotism to the public sentiment. It may be among the illusions of memory, but I think I have nowhere else seen the Fourth of July and Washington's Birthday celebrated with such zeal and interest as in the gatherings I there attended. I recall a great meeting of the people on the Fourth of July, 1840, on the border of the county, in Brownsville, at which a considerable part of the procession was composed of vehicles filled with Revolutionary soldiers. I was but ten years old and may possibly mistake, but I think there were more than two hundred of the grand old heroes. The modern cant and criticism which we sometimes hear about Washington not being, after all, a very great man would have been dangerous talk on that day and in that assemblage.

"These pioneers placed a high value on education, and while they were still on the frontier struggling with its privations they established two excellent colleges, long since prosperously united in one. It would be impossible to overstate the beneficent and wide-spread influence which Washington and Jefferson Colleges have exerted on the civilization of that great country which lies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River. Their graduates have been prominent in the pulpit, at the bar, on the bench, and in the high stations of public life. During my service of eighteen years in Congress, I met a larger number of the alumni of Washington and Jefferson than of any other single college in the Union. I make this statement from memory, but I feel assured that a close examination of the rolls of the two Houses from 1863 to 1881 would fully establish its correctness. Not only were the two colleges founded and well sustained, but the entire educational system of the county, long before the school tax and public schools, was comprehensive and thorough. I remember in my own boyhood that there were ten or eleven academies or select schools in the county where lads could be fitted for college. In nearly every instance the Presbyterian pastor was the principal teacher. Many who will be present at your centennial will recall the succession of well-drilled students who came for so many years from the tuition of Dr. McCluskey at West Alexander, from Rev. John Stockton at Cross Creek, from Rev. John Eagleson at Buffalo, and from others of like worth and reputation. It was inevitable that a county thus peopled should grow in strength, wisdom, and wealth. Its sixty thousand inhabitants are favored far beyond the average lot of man. They are blessed with a fertile soil and with the health-giving climate which belongs to the charmed latitude of the fortieth parallel,--the middle of the wheat and corn belt of the continent. Beyond this they enjoy the happy and ennobling influences of scenery as grand and as beautiful as that which lures tourists thousands of miles beyond the sea. I have myself visited many of the celebrated spots in Europe and in America, and I have nowhere witnessed a more attractive sight than was familiar to my eyes in boyhood from the old Indian Hill farm, where I was born and where my great-grandfather, the elder Neal Gillespie, settled before the outbreak of the Revolution. The majestic sweep of the Monongahela through the foothills of the Alleghenies, with the chain of mountains but twenty miles distant in full view, gave an impression of beauty and sublimity which can never be effaced.

"I talk thus familiarly of localities and of childhood incidents, because your assemblage, though composed of thousands, will in effect be a family REUNION, where the only thing in order will be tradition and recollection and personal history. Identified, as I have been for twenty-eight years, with a great and noble people in another section of the Union, I have never lost any of my attachment for my native county and my native State. The two feelings no more conflict than does a man's love for his wife and his love for his mother. Wherever I may be in life, or whatever my fortune, the county of Washington, as it anciently was, taking in all the State south and west of the Monongahela, will be sacred in my memory. I shall always recall with pride that my ancestry and kindred were and are not inconspicuously connected with its history, and that on either side of the beautiful river, in Protestant and Catholic cemeteries, five generations of my own blood sleep in honored graves.

"Very sincerely yours,

In 1831, Ephraim L. Blaine, doubtless anticipating the speedy completion of the bridge over the Monongahela, then projected, laid out the original plat of the town of West Brownsville. This plat contained one hundred and three lots, sixty feet wide, and (owing to the abrupt hillside) varying from ninety-three to two hundred and seventy deep. Its streets running parallel with the river are Water, Middle, and Main, while those crossing them at right angles are Bridge, Broadway, and Liberty.

Some years later James L. Bowman laid out the addition known as "Bowman's Addition to West Brownsville." This addition comprises sixty-one lots (each sixty feet wide by one hundred and fifty-one feet deep), lying below or to the northward of the original plat. Water, Middle, and Main Streets are continued through it, while its cross streets are Penn and Vine.

Notwithstanding the opening of the bridge over the Monongahela in 1833, but few persons were induced to build dwellings in this little hamlet of West Brownsville until the establishment of Pringle's boat-yard. In the fall of 1842, Ephraim L. Blaine was the Democratic candidate1 for prothonotary, and was elected. In February of the following year he sold out a large portion of his village property to Capt. John S. Pringle, who at once established an extensive yard for the building of steamboats, etc. The establishment of these works brought an increased number of residents, more especially from among those who here found employment. Schools were opened, mercantile houses were established, and various minor manufacturing interests also.

[1During the heat of the canvass which preceded the election in 1842 it seems to have been a mooted [sic] question whether the Democratic candidate for the office of prothonotary was a member of the Catholic Church or not. To prove or disprove an assertion publicly made the Catholic priest officiating in the neighborhood was appealed to, who promptly furnished the following forcible and, to say the least, unequivocal certificate, which was afterwards displayed in the public prints of that day:

"This is to certify that Ephraim L. Blaine is not now and never was a member of the Catholic Church, and furthermore, in my opinion, he is not fit to be a member of any church."

Notwithstanding the broad and perhaps unwarranted assertion of the reverend father here quoted, Mr. Blaine finally became a member of the denomination mentioned. He died June 28, 1850, and his remains now lie buried beside his wife's within the shadows of the Catholic church edifice at Brownsville, Fayette Co.]

The first ferries on the Monongahela River were authorized by the Virginia courts Feb. 23, 1775, then in session at Fort Dunmore (now Pittsburgh). On that day Jacob Bausman was licensed to keep a ferry from his house on the south side of the Monongahela River to Fort Dunmore. Michael Cresap was also licensed the same day "to keep a ferry on Monongahela River at Redstone Old Fort to the land of Indian Peter [now West Brownsville], and that he provide a boat." Cresap died in the fall of that year. It is not known by whom the ferry was continued. The lands on the east side of the river came into possession of Thomas Brown, and in 1784 the lands on the west side were purchased by Neal Gillespie. In the minutes of the December sessions of Fayette County Court for 1788 is found a report of certain persons appointed to view "the road from Friends' Meeting-House to the ferry at the fort," meaning Gillespie's ferry at Redstone Old Fort, or Brownsville. The landing place of the ferry in Brownsville is in front of the residence of Henry Sweitzer (now the United States Hotel), and in West Brownsville directly opposite. The old road that led back into the country from the ferry is now unused, but may be seen winding along the bank of the little stream that comes in at that place.

This ferry continued making its landings at this point until about 1820, when the National road was opened to the Monongahela River, and the ferry landing was moved up to the point where the great highway struck the river in Bridgeport. It was there continued until the bridge across the river was completed in 1833.

Another ferry was established on the Monongahela River by John Krepps in the year 1794. Its landing at West Brownsville was above the boat-yards of Axton and Pringle and directly opposite the present residence of Solomon G. Krepps, at which point the eastern landing was made. This ferry remained in operation until some time after the completion of the Monongahela bridge, and towards the last of its existence a ferry-boat propelled by steam was used upon it.

There was no communication by bridge across the Monongahela River from West Brownsville to Bridgeport until the year 1833, all traffic and travel across the stream at this point being accommodated by the ferries up to that time. More than twenty years earlier, however, the project of bridging the river at some point near the mouth of Dunlap's Creek was agitated by some of the most prominent men of the vicinity on both sides of the river. In 1810 an act was passed (approved March 20th in that year) "to authorize the Governor to incorporate a company for erecting a bridge over the Monongahela River at or near where the road leading from Brownsville to the town of Washington crosses the same," thus authorizing the location of the bridge at Brownsville or Bridgeport, as might be decided on. The act designated and appointed "Neal Gillespie, Jr., Parker Campbell, and Thomas Acheson, of the county of Washington, Jacob Bowman, Thomas Mason, Charles Shaffner, Samuel Jackson, David Ewing, and Michael Sowers, of the county of Fayette," commissioners to receive subscriptions to the stock of the company to be formed. It was provided and required by the act that the bridge should be so constructed as not to obstruct navigation (except so far as might be done by the erection of the two abutments and three piers in the river), "or in any manner to obstruct the passage over the usual fording-place, which shall at all times be open as heretofore to persons desirous of passing through the same." The company was of course authorized to collect tolls. The bridge to be commenced in three years and finished in seven years from the passage of the act, under penalty of forfeiture of rights and franchises. References to the probable early commencement and completion of the bridge are found in the newspapers of that time; but no work was ever actually done on it, nor does it appear that the bridge site was definitely determined on or the necessary amount of stock subscribed.

On the 16th of March, 1830, the Monongahela Bridge Company was incorporated, with a capital of $44,000. The corporators were George Hogg, James L. Bowman, Valentine Giesey, and Robert Clarke, of Fayette County; David Moore, Jesse Kenworthy, Ephraim L. Blaine, John Ringland, and Thomas McKennan, of Washington County. By the terms of the incorporation William Davidson, George Craft, Isaac Meason, and Andrew Oliphant, of Fayette County, and John Park, Jr., William Berry, and John Watson, of Washington County, were appointed commissioners to locate the site of the bridge. These men, taking into consideration the great amount of travel and traffic then coming to the river over the National road, fixed the location at the point where that road strikes the river in Bridgeport, and where the bridge now spans the stream.

Books were opened for subscriptions to the stock in July, 1830, and the requisite amount was soon obtained. The contract for building was awarded to Messrs. Le Baron and De Mond, at $32,000, with $5000 additional for the approaches. They commenced work in the fall of 1831, and on the 23d day of November received the first payment of $500 on the contract. Apparently the work was not pushed very vigorously, for the bridge was not completed until 1833, the first tolls being received on the 14th of October in that year.

The bridge is a covered structure, of wood, six hundred and thirty feet in length, in three spans, standing on two piers in the river between the abutments. For almost half a century it has stood firm against the ice and the numerous great floods in the Monongahela, the most remarkable of which was, perhaps, that which reached its most dangerous point on the 6th of April, 1852. The bridge has always been a very profitable investment to the stockholders, but more particularly so in the palmy days of the national road, before the railways had diverted its travel and traffic into other channels. The first officers of the company were George Hogg, president; Thomas McKennan, secretary; James L. Bowman, treasurer. Mr. Hogg was succeeded in the presidency by James L. Bowman, whose successor is George E. Hogg. The following-named gentlemen are the present (1881) officers; Managers, George E. Hogg (president), J. W. Jeffries, Capt. Adam Jacobs, Eli J. Bailey, N.B. Bowman, Joseph T. Rogers, George W. Lenhart; Secretary and Treasurer, William Ledwith.

Robert McKinley, Esq., was born at Cumberland, Md., something more than half a century ago, and first settled at West Brownsville in the year 1847. He remembers that among those then living here were James Moffit, justice of the peace and surveyor; Ephraim L. Blaine, who lived in the brick house now owned by Solomon Watkins; Jacob Bennett, a New Orleans trader, or rather one who traded in produce at various points along the Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers from Brownsville to New Orleans; John S. Pringle, master boat-builder; Thomas H. Hopkins, who kept hotel in the building now known as the "Nichols House;" J. E. Adams, boat-builder; John Gregg, and George Morrison, the latter of whom was then engaged in the sale of dry-goods, etc. Mr. McKinley established a grocery-store during the first year of his settlement here.

The boat-yard of John Cock and Leonard Lanehart was started as early as 1848, and at the time the town was incorporated (1849) there were many other prominent residents, whose names are found attached to a petition praying that the town be incorporated.

Incorporation.—In the spring of 1849 a new era dawned upon the little village. With a population1 of nearly four hundred inhabitants, it was determined to apply for a borough charter,2 and, accordingly, a petition to that effect, signed by John S. Pringle, Ephraim L. Blaine, and forty-seven other citizens, was presented to the Washington County Court of Quarter Sessions. At the May term of that year the court ordered that the application be placed before the grand jury, which body having considered the matter just and expedient recommended that the prayer of the petitioners be granted. Thereupon, during the August sessions of 1849, the following order was placed upon record:

[1The borough of West Brownsville, according to the United States census returns, had 477 inhabitants in 1850, 613 in 1860, 547 in 1870, and 570 in 1880.

[2Until incorporated as a borough the town included portions of East Bethlehem and East Pike Run townships.]

"Petition for the incorporation of the Borough of West Brownsville, Aug. 29, 1849, the report of the grand jury is confirmed, and the court decree the erection of a Borough agreeably to the prayer of the petitioners and order the same to be recorded in the recorder's office of the county at the expense of the applicants, and from henceforth the said town or village be deemed an incorporated borough, and shall be entitled to the several rights, privileges, and immunities conferred by the act of assembly in such cases made and provided, subject to such modifications as may be hereafter made by the Legislature."

First Borough Election.—The first election for borough officers took place at the school-house in West Brownsville on the 20th day of October, 1849, when the following-named officers were elected: Joseph Taylor, burgess; John S. Pringle, Leonard Lanehart, Elisha Griffith, Elijah A. Byland, and Joseph D. Woodfill, Town Council; Greenbury Millburn, high constable; Thomas McDonald and Robert Wilson, judges of election; Fayette Hart, inspector; William White and George Gehoe, clerks.

At the first meeting of the Council, which was held Oct. 23, 1849, James Moffitt was appointed clerk to serve for the term of one year, and at a subsequent meeting, held Nov. 13, 1849, John Whitmer was appointed street commissioner, and D. D. Whitmer treasurer. The first ordinance (which required the street commissioners to employ some competent surveyor to make "two town plats of the borough") was adopted Dec. 1, 1849.

Subsequent Borough Officers.—The principal borough officers elected and appointed annually since 1849, so far as we have been able to obtain data, have been as follows:

1850—John Gregg, burgess; John Cock, D. D. Williams, James Gregg, John Wilkins, and James Pierce, councilmen.

1851—Thomas McDonald, burgess; William Corwin, John Cock, Robert Wilson, Joseph Pierce1, and Isaac Gardner, councilmen.

[1Removed, when in January, 1852, James A. Hill was appointed to fill vacancy.]

1852—James Moffit, burgess; John Gregg, Duncan Campbell, James Coburn, John McClary, and George Gehoe, councilmen.

1853—James A. Hill, burgess; D. D. Williams, Robert B. Wilson, William H. Wilkins, Jesse Calvert, and D. W. C. Harvey, councilmen.

1854—Isaac Garner1, burgess; John Johnston, John G. Taylor, John Whitmer, and Jacob Ryan, councilmen.

[1John Johnston was elected burgess to fill vacancy April 10, 1855.]

1855—Thomas McDonald, burgess; John Cock, William Corwin, Conrad Hartranft, James Patterson, and Philip Stearn, councilmen.

1856—Elijah Byland, burgess; John Starr, J. E. Adams, John Wilkins, Philip Stearn, and J. P. Brock, councilmen.

1857—John G. Taylor, burgess; Robert McKinley, Thomas M. Hopkins, John McClary, Thomas Cock, and George Brandhoover, councilmen.

1858—Samuel Lopp, burgess; William Wilkins, George Herrington, A. J. Smalley, Robert Houston, and G. D. Coburn, councilmen.

1859—John McClary, burgess; J. E. Adams, Conrad Hartranft, John Cock, Thaddeus C. S. Williams, and Thomas Houseman, councilmen.

1860—J. E. Adams, burgess; James Storer, James Patterson, Thomas McDonald, and Thomas F. Cock, councilmen.

1861—Thomas Gregg, burgess; Jabez French, Samuel B. McCrory, Jonathan Ryan, Thomas Aubrey, and Robert Houston, councilmen.

1862—Thomas H. Hopkins, burgess; Thomas Aubrey, Robert Houston, Elijah Byland, John Wilkinson, and Thomas F. Cock, councilmen.

1863—D. D. Williams, burgess; John S. Gray, J. E. Adams, John Starr, Thomas McDonald, and Jacob W. Ullery, councilmen.

1864—No records of officers elected.

1865—No records of officers elected.

18661—Robert Houston, burgess; Thomas Aubrey, George Herrington, Thomas H.[?] Moffitt, James A. Hill, and Samuel Lopp, councilmen.

[1To March, 1866, borough officers had been elected in October of each year. By an act of the State legislature, however, passed during the winter of 1865-66, the time of holding borough elections was changed to the third Friday in March, it being the time of electing justices of the peace and officers to hold general elections in the State, etc.]

1867—Thomas F. Cock, burgess; Thomas H.[?] Moffitt, James A. Dudgeon, Alfred S. Starr, Alexander McKee, and Jacob W. Ullery, councilmen.

1868—The election held March 20, 1868, was illegal, and the officers elected the previous year were continued (by order of the court) until March, 1869.

1869—Thomas F. Cock, burgess; James Patterson, J. E. Adams, Valentine Cowgill, John W. Bevard, and William H. Wilkins, councilmen.

1870—Thomas Gregg, burgess; Robert Houston, William K. Gregg, John Devenny, T. C. S. Williams, and Jonathan Ryan, councilmen.

1871—James A. Hill, burgess; George Herrington, A. J. Smalley, William Houseman, Daniel French, and Simeon McCoy, councilmen.

1872—James H. Brown, burgess; George Herrington, Robert Houston, Thomas Storer, Thomas Gregg, S. H. Ward, and Thomas McDonald, councilmen.

1873—Robert Houston, burgess; William Reynolds, James Smith, Jacob Ullery, Martin McGill, Valentine Cowgill, and James Blair, councilmen.

1874—George W. Cock, burgess; Samuel A. Lopp, T. C. S. Williams, James W. Hendrix, William Houseman, Jonathan Ryan, and James M. Smith, councilmen.

1875—Jabez French, burgess; William R. Britton, Adelbert L. Herrington, William H. McKinley, Theophilus V. Dwyer, and George Livingston, councilmen.

1876—David French, burgess; William Houseman, George Livingston, A. J. Smalley, J. S. Houston, and William H. Johnson, councilmen.

1877—Jonathan Ryan, burgess; Daniel W. French, Martin McGill, Samuel Market, James A. Hill, and William K. Gregg, councilmen.

1878—William R. Britton, burgess; George Herrington, A. J. Smalley, William Houseman, Samuel B. McCrory, Eri [sic] Moffitt, and John Weigel, councilmen.

1879—William H. McKinley, burgess; Simeon McCoy and Mahlon H. Byland, councilmen.

1880—William H. McKinley, burgess; Daniel French, Samuel J. Price, and Robert Houston, councilmen.

1881—William H. McKinley, burgess; George Livingston and Hugh T. Boley, councilmen.

1882—A. L. Herrington, burgess; Alfred S. Starr and James H. Brown, Jr., councilmen; Charles Gregg, clerk; John Cornell, treasurer.


Edward M. Melchi, April 9, 1850. Freeman Wise, April 10, 1867.
James Moffitt, Sept. 13, 1853. Robert McKinley, April 14, 1868.
D. W. C. Harvey, April 10, 1855. James F. Howden, April 19, 1872.
James Moffitt, April 13, 1858. James F. Howden, Jan. 26, 1874.
Elisha Griffith, April 28, 1858. Robert McKinley, March 31, 1874.
Robert McKinley, April 14, 1863. James H. Brown, March 25, 1878.
James Moffitt, April 14, 1863. Robert McKinley, March 27, 1879.

St. John's Church (Episcopal).—The history of this organization begins with the month of April, 1850, when the Rev. Samuel Cowell (who had been called to the rectorship of Christ Church in Brownsville in 1845), assisted by Mr. J. Wallace, Miss Mary E. Brown, Miss Elizabeth Isler, and Miss Isabella L. Sweitzer, members of his congregation, established in the then new town hall the first Sunday-school ever held in the town of West Brownsville. Mr. Cowell removed from Brownsville in 1852, and during several subsequent years occasional services were held in West Brownsville by Revs. J. J. Page and Richard Temple.

In 1860, however, Rev. J. J. Page and Mr. J. Leathead organized the parish of St. John's. During the same year the latter was ordained deacon, and placed in charge of the parish by the bishop. During the year 1860, also, Mr. John Cock donated a lot to the vestry of the new church organization, and the stone basement of the church edifice was erected. Mr. Leathead removed from the vicinity soon after the breaking out of the civil war, and owing to the distracted state of the country, work upon the building was suspended until 1870, when it was resumed and the present beautiful framed structure completed in 1871. During the intervening years, however, the Sunday-schools were regularly kept up by a number of faithful teachers.

On the 25th of November, 1873, the bishop consecrated the new church edifice. The instrument of donation was read by Jacob McKennan, Esq., and that of consecration by the dean, Rev. R. S. Smith. An eloquent sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Page, and the Rev. Dr. Spaulding, Revs. C. N. Spaulding, S. D. Day, and the rector, Rev. Horace E. Hayden, also participated in the ceremonies. The building cost seven thousand dollars, and will seat comfortably two hundred and fifty people.

After the informal opening of the church (which occurred July 23, 1871), Rev. D. C. Page preached twice a month for some time. Its small congregation, however, had no settled rector until 1873, when Rev. Horace E. Hayden came. During the six and one-half years of his ministry he labored indefatigably to the wants of his parish. Many a stranger who had fallen by the wayside received Christian burial at his hands, and his unceasing labors, by day and by night, among the sick and dying, during the diphtheria epidemic in 1878, will long be remembered by the people of Brownsville and its vicinity. In 1879 he resigned the charge of St. John's Church, and removed to Wilkesbarre, Pa. Since, only occasional services have been held. At one time there were forty communicants belonging to this church, but in consequence of the panic of 1873, deaths, and removals, the number of members has been greatly diminished.

Present Business Men.—The prominent business men of the town at the present time are Messrs. Axton & Pringle (successors to John S. Pringle), steamboat, hull, and barge builders, and dealers in floating crafts generally; Messrs. Aubrey & Son, proprietors of planing-mill and lumber-yard, also general contractors; Robert McKinley, Esq., justice of the peace; William A. Bevard, dealer in groceries, flour, and feed; Burton & Cornell, dealers in general merchandise; Henry B. Baker, merchant and postmaster;1 William A. Coburn, station and express agent; J. Devenny & Co., grocers; Thomas H. Hopkins, proprietor of the "Hopkins House;" Ransom D. Marcy, shoemaker; and Thomas H. Moffitt, carriage manufacturer.

[1The first postmaster was James Moffitt, the office having been established under the Whig administrations of either Taylor or Fillmore. Squire Moffitt was a stanch Whig, anti-Masonic, and an Abolitionist. He was succeeded by Robert McKinley. Among subsequent incumbents of the office have been Homer Chrisinger, James Moffitt (second term), Mrs. Isabella Bennington, John Ward, John Cornell, and Henry B. Baker.]

Boat Building.—The firm of Axton & Pringle (successors to John S. Pringle), steamboat and barge builders, is one of which West Brownsville borough and Washington County can justly boast. Capt. John S. Pringle, the founder of this firm, was born in the old township of Frankstown,1 Huntingdon Co. (but now a part of Blair County, Pa.), Oct. 23, 1804. When but twelve or thirteen years of age, having attained unusual proportions for a youth of his years, he engaged in keel-boating on the Juniata and Susquehanna Rivers. Thus he early became accustomed to rely upon his own exertions, as well as familiar with boat architecture, etc.

[1By referring to our own manuscript history of Frankstown township, we find that William Pringle (the father of John S. Pringle) was a native of Scotland, and had settled in the township mentioned before the Revolutionary war, or while it was yet a part of Bedford County. In 1788, according to the first assessment of Frankstown, as of Huntingdon County, William Pringle was the owner of two hundred acres of land (of which fifty acres were held by warrant and one hundred and fifty acres by location), two horses, and two cows. His property was valued at two hundred and one pounds, upon which a State tax of nine shillings and two pence and a county tax of four shillings and seven pence was levied for that year.]

In 1826, being then about twenty-two years of age, young Pringle, it seems, concluded to try his fortunes on the western side of the mountains, and, shouldering his rifle, he crossed the Alleghenies on foot, and finally reached Little Redstone. There he found one Joseph Allen engaged in the construction of keel-boats. He at once became an employé [sic] of Allen's, receiving as pay fifty cents per day and board. Very soon thereafter, however, Richard Kimber, who had a boat-yard in Bridgeport, offered young Pringle one dollar and twenty-five cents per day, and thereby secured his services. Kimber was then building a steamboat for "Old Bob" Rogers, but as he had occasion to be absent from the yard the greater part of the time, and left young Pringle in charge of the work, the latter was looked upon by Rogers as her real builder.

After this boat was completed, Mr. Rogers proposed that Pringle should build him a boat, assuming sole control architecturally and otherwise. Mr. Pringle as yet rather doubted his ability as a master-boat-builder, but upon being assured by Rogers that he (Rogers) would unhesitatingly take all the chances of success or failure, our young boat-builder, assisted greatly by such advice as the larger experience of his patron enabled him to offer, began and completed a boat which was an eminent success from the moment she was launched, whose hull, different from any to that time was seen on Western waters, has since been copied by scores of Western boat-builders.

Mr. Rogers desired a boat that would displace as little water as possible, so that she could be run during low stages. The result was a flat-bottomed boat, which, as we have before stated, was a great success, as she was able to make her regular trips throughout the summer, while all others of her tonnage, and much less, were compelled to lie idle. Indeed, her owner or owners were offered several thousand dollars more than she cost within a very short time after completion. Mr. Pringle's fame as a boat-builder was now firmly established, and orders from the West and Southwest soon made his modest little boat-yard a very hive of industry. It was enlarged, and for years from thirty to fifty men were steadily employed, and from five to ten steamers, besides other craft, completed each year.

Until the spring of 1843 his business was carried on in Bridgeport, Fayette Co. He then purchased a large portion of Ephraim L. Blaine's plat of West Brownsville (the site of the present yard), including the latter's early residence and saw-mill. Increased facilities were obtained in West Brownsville. The town was given its first impetus and the capacities for boat-building were doubled. In 1864, W. W. Aull was admitted as a partner. The firm of Pringle and Aull, however, only continued one year, for in 1865 the former purchased the latter's interest and thereupon formed a joint-stock company, known as the "Pringle Boat-Building Company," the members being as follows: John Wilkinson, James Storer, John S. Gray, William Patterson, James H. Gray, John Starr, Alexander K. McKee, A. J. Smalley, James Blair, U. G. M. Perrin, Alfred S. Starr, Joseph Weaver, James Patterson, Andrew C. Axton, E. F. Wise, John Wiegel, Daniel French, Henry Minks, Robert Houston, George McClain, William Gray, John S. Pringle, J. D. S. Pringle, and Finley Patterson.

The "Boat-Building Company" continued about three years, when John S. Pringle bought out the other members and again became sole owner. On the 1st day of January, 1879, after having been engaged in boat-building in this vicinity for more than half a century, he relinquished the business to his son, J. D. S. Pringle, and son-in-law, Andrew C. Axton. The present firm built nine steamboats in 1881, and furnished employment to sixty men. Their works are extensive, covering about ten acres of ground, while the mill in use has a capacity of sawing sixteen thousand feet of boat lumber per day.

In concluding this article we will add that the pioneer boat-builder, Capt. John S. Pringle, still occupies the dwelling in West Brownsville purchased from Ephraim L. Blaine (father of Hon. James G. Blaine) in 1843. He has been married twice, and is the father of fifteen children. Two sons (J. D. S. and William H.) and one son-in-law (Andrew C. Axton) served in the Union army during the war of the Rebellion. At the beginning of the war William H. Pringle was a resident of Sacramento City, Cal. He there joined a volunteer cavalry company, which was sent around Cape Horn to the port of Boston, Mass. At the latter place this company of California volunteers, as Company L, was attached to the Second Massachusetts Cavalry. They performed gallant service in the field. Unfortunately, however, young Pringle was taken prisoner by the enemy, and for long weary months endured all the privations and horrors of the Andersonville prison-pen. He never recovered from the inhuman treatment there experienced, but died, like thousands of others, soon after his release and before reaching home.

John Cock and Leonard Lanehart established what was known as the "lower boat-yard" in West Brownsville about the year 1848. They continued in a very successful way until about the beginning of the war, when Thomas F. Cock and D. D. Williams assumed its management for four or five years. They, also, were very successful and netted large profits. About 1865 James M. Hutchinson, George W. Cock, and T. C. S. Williams purchased the yard, and continued the business some four or five years. Their successors were H. B. Cock & Co. (a stock company composed of several members), who were not eminently successful. Finally, while under the management of H. B. Cock and Thomas F. Cock, operations at this yard ceased about the year 1875.

The Excelsior Planing-Mill of West Brownsville, Thomas Aubrey & Son proprietors, was built by the firm of Aubrey, Cromlow & Coon,--i.e., Thomas Aubrey, Oliver C. Cromlow, and E. N. Coon,--about the year 1855. About 1867 Mr. Aubrey, having sold out his interests, removed to the West. Under the firm-name of Cromlow & Coon the business was then continued until March, 1871, when Mr. Cromlow died, and during the same year the surviving partner went into bankruptcy. Subsequently as assignee Robert McKinley, Esq., sold the property to Adam Jacobs and William Reynolds. In 1873 Mr. Aubrey returned to the village, leased the premises, and resumed his former occupation. He has since become part owner of the mill, and with his son, R. L. Aubrey, now conducts the business under the name of Aubrey & Son.

As builders and general contractors this firm handle [sic] more than two million feet of lumber per year, and furnish employment to about thirty men.



Venerable for his ripe old age and well-spent life is John S. Pringle, of West Brownsville, in which place he has resided for many years, actively identified with its business and growth. He is the only son of William Pringle, a Scotchman, who emigrated to America when a young man, and Elizabeth (Snyder) Pringle, who was of German descent, and was born Oct. 23, 1804, near McKee's Gap, Blair Co., Pa. He had three sisters, but one of whom, Mrs. Esther Frederick, who is seven years his senior, is now living. His opportunities for an education were such as the subscription schools of neighborhoods in which he resided during his minority afforded. He employed his spare moments in the study of business men and methods, and by the time he reached his majority he was fairly equipped for the work which was to engage his attention in after-years. When eighteen years of age he left his father's house, which was then in Bedford County, and came to "Redstone Old Fort." The first work which he performed after coming to Fayette County was in the boat-yard of Joseph Allen, at the mouth of Little Redstone Creek. He developed a fondness and an aptness for boat-building, and after remaining with Mr. Allen one summer was employed as foreman in the yard of Robert Rogers, of Brownsville, for whom he built the first flat-bottomed boat launched west of the Alleghenies. The superiority of this boat over others then in use was manifest, as was also Mr. Pringle's ability as a boat-builder, and orders for vessels like unto this one were so numerous that he determined to embark in business for himself. He began in the yard at Brownsville, and remained there until 1844, when he purchased the Ephraim Blaine property in West Brownsville, and upon it graded and established a boat-yard, which he operated until 1879, when, incapacitated by old age and disease, he transferred his business interests to the care of his son, John D. S. Pringle, and his son-in-law, Andrew C. Axton, both of whom are noted for their energy and business ability.

Mr. Pringle is a courteous, hospitable gentleman, and his life has been honest, busy, and useful. He has long been a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, to whose benevolent enterprises he is a liberal contributor. He started in life with a sound and vigorous constitution, and, being temperate in his habits, he preserved a hale and healthful body more than threescore and ten years. He is respected by his neighbors, esteemed by his friends, and sincerely loved by his family.

He was married May 3, 1832, to Elizabeth P. Horner, who died Nov. 29, 1844. By this marriage there were six children,--Elizabeth, who married Jacob Walter, is dead; Ann is unmarried, and resides with her father; William H. was a soldier in the late war, and died of disease contracted in a Southern prison; George W. died when a young man; Sarah is the wife of Andrew C. Axton, who served as a soldier in the late war, enlisting in the old Washington Cavalry, which after eighteen months' was incorporated in the Twenty-second Pennsylvania Cavalry. His maimed body bears witness that he loves and has served his country well. Mary died in infancy.

Mr. Pringle was married to his present wife, Sarah Ellen Snider, Oct. 16, 1845. They have ten children, all living. They are John D. S., who did good service in the war of the Rebellion as a member of Company F, Eighteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, married Cornelia Deems; David S., married Nancy J. Gamble; Nancy, married Newton McClaine; Ella, married William H. Harrison; Mary, married John W. Thompson; Simon P., married Margaret Moorehouse; Christian S. and Andrew A. are unmarried.

Politically Mr. Pringle was originally a Democrat. He continued in that faith until the organization of the Republican party, since which time he has acted with it. His business life in this vicinity extends over a period of more than half a century, and in that time he has launched over five hundred boats upon the Monongahela. The largest one in that number was the "Illinois." She was three hundred and four feet long, had a fifty-two-foot beam, and was seventy-five feet across her deck.

*Boyd Crumrine, "History of Washington County, Pennsylvania with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men" (Philadelphia: L. H. Leverts & Co., 1882).

Transcribed by Priscilla J. Corbett of Abington, PA in July 1998. Published in July 1998 on http://www.chartiers.com.

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Copyright © 1998 Jean Suplick Matuson. All rights reserved.